Monday, August 31, 2009

March 10-15, 1967, Whisky A-Go-Go, San Francisco, CA: The Grateful Dead (canceled)

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I have since changed my mind about these gigs, having found more evidence. My general points still stand, but I now think the Grateful Dead played the SF Whisky through March 15, 1967--see here

A thoughtful commenter on my post about the San Francisco Whisky reminded me of the scheduled performance by The Grateful Dead at the San Francisco Whisky-A-Go-Go from March 10 through 16, 1967 (Friday through Thursday). I was aware of this event, but I completely dropped the ball in mentioning it. I take some solace in the fact that I am fairly certain that the shows never occurred, which is how I drew the conclusion that the SF Whisky did not last until March of that year. However, since I never explained it, I could hardly have expected anyone to follow my reasoning. I will attempt to rectify this with the current post.

To briefly recap earlier posts, the world famous Whisky-Go-Go in Hollywood opened on January 11, 1964. It drew its name from a disco in Paris, and there already was a similarly named, though unrelated Whisky-A-Go-Go, in Chicago (on Rush and Chestnut). The Hollywood Whisky entrepreneur, Elmer Valentine, seems to have allowed or licensed the name and "concept" to other operators. The San Francisco Whisky-A-Go-Go, now thoroughly forgotten, opened in April, 1965 and seems to have lasted until early 1967. It was located at 568 Sacramento (at Montgomery), sort of near the Financial District but somewhat far from the action on North Beach. The Doors, along with The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, played some gigs at the SF Whisky in February of 1967, but although they were scheduled for two weeks, after two days of tiny crowds The Doors handed off their gig to The Wildflower. The Doors, at least, reported that the venue had gone from a "Go-Go" club, with scantily dressed girls dancing to the music (the Hollywood model) to a topless club, with topless waitresses, a pretty common business practice in the Bay Area at the time.

Most Grateful Dead chronologies, including Deadlists and, list March 10-16, 1967 shows for the Dead at the Whisky in Hollywood. This flies in the face of the fact that the surviving poster clearly indicates that the Dead were scheduled to play at the San Francisco Whisky (h/t to commenter psychlops). The book The Grateful Dead: The Illustrated Trip gets the location correct, although they do not comment on the shows themselves. In any case, most chronologies correctly suspect that the shows did not occur. In order to understand why this is the most plausible scenario--over and above the fact that no surviving tapes, photos or eyewitness accounts exist--we need to discuss the peculiar backstory of the Love Conspiracy Commune.

In 1966, the San Francisco underground exploded into the light, with local bands, drugs and scenes suddenly making waves in the National and Local press. All sorts of people flocked to San Francisco, some of them musicians, some of them future hippies, and some of them looking to make a buck. By 1967 a trickle had become a flood, and what was once a local happening was turning into a conflict between commercial potential and cultural authenticity. This tension would peak at the Monterey Pop Festival in the Summer, but the fault lines were already clear. Although Bill Graham and Chet Helms were the best known promoters in San Francisco (then and now), plenty of other people and groups put on concerts and happenings.

The Love Conspiracy Commune is usually known only from posters, having presented four events in San Francisco:

February 14-27, Whisky A-Go-Go (568 Sacramento): The Doors/Peanut Butter Conspiracy
The Doors are replaced by The Wildflower from February 16 onwards.

March 3, 1967, Winterland (Post and Steiner): Love/Grateful Dead/Moby Grape/Loading Zone/Blue Crumb Truck Factory "The First Annual Love Circus"

March 6, 1967, 8th and Irving Streets: The Love Conspiracy Commune Presents A Psychedelic Happening
No specific bands are mentioned in the poster, but Liqour, Beer and Sandwiches at low prices figure prominently in the poster.

March 10-16, Whisky A-Go-Go (568 Sacramento): The Grateful Dead

Who were The Love Conspiracy Commune, and how did they appear on the scene so suddenly to book rising underground stars like The Doors, The Grateful Dead and Moby Grape, at an established (if struggling) venue and a major hall (Winterland)? The one specific account of the Love Conspiracy Commune comes from the excellent book by Rolling Stone writer Charles Perry, Haight Ashbury: A History (Rolling Stone Press 1984). Perry writes in detail about a conflict about the March 3 show at Winterland. Local politics were too complicated to go into here, but suffice to say there was tension between those who felt that the scene should stay free or at least cheap, and those who saw it as a commercial bonanza. A sort of collective called The Diggers protested the show for being too expensive ($3.50, pricey at the time).

Perry details a complicated confrontation (p.150-151) in which The Diggers ended up picketing the Winterland show, and The Dead refused to play unless the picketers got in for free. The promoters relented, and some picketers were let in, though apparently not all. Amongst the various broadsides passed back and forth

"One of the group, said the Diggers, had admitted that the Love Conspiracy Commune was backed by "some mob." The mob was a group of dealers from the University of North Carolina who jokingly called themselves the "Chapel Hill Mafia" (p.150)."

While this accusation seems like the sort of criticism that angry ideologues hurl at each other, Perry points out later (p.189) that a Methedrine/DMT lab associated with the Love Conspiracy Commune, on Baker Street (in Pacific Heights), was busted on May 3, so the Commune may indeed have had some shady underpinnings.

The March 6 poster is interesting too. It promises a "Happening" with no specific bands, and makes clear that "Liquor, Beer and Sandwiches" will be available. While hardly illegal, this is clearly an effort to turn an Acid Test into a profitable dance party--dare I call it "A Rave"--and it too must not have gone over well in The Haight. Of course, I have never read or heard a single thing about the March 6 event, so I do not know what happened.

However, by the time of the scheduled March 10-16 Whisky event with the Dead, the "Love Conspiracy Commune" had already caused an ugly rift with the Haight community, and put the Grateful Dead in the middle of a political dispute. The Dead were always comfortable with chaos, but shied away from conflict, and I can't imagine them wanting to play a downtown club with topless waitresses for an out-of-town group who had already shown poor judgment at best.There is no record of the Grateful Dead shows at The Whisky, other than the poster, and I have no reason to think they played the gigs.

My own theory about the Love Conspiracy Commune is that they were connected to drug dealers of some kind, who were looking to make a splash quickly (perhaps to hide money). They blew into San Francisco and took over the booking of an available club, The Whisky A-Go-Go, not realizing it was in the wrong part of town and antithetical to the local scene. They seemed to have the ready cash to book a big event at Winterland, too, but they seemed to have drastically misjudged the local participants, who were still devoted to events that reflected the community as it was perceived, and not ready to fully exploit it commercially. The "Happening" on March 6 that advertises refreshments is actually the most jarring note, and a sign that the San Francisco scene still had an underground feel to it, even if it was slowly conceding ground to commercial realities.

The Peanut Butter Conspiracy/Wildflower shows went through February 27, and I have never seen an ad for an SF Whisky show other than the March 10-16 Dead poster. Its my belief that the SF Whisky had closed by March 10, if not even sooner after February 27, as another misguided enterprise from The Love Conspiracy Commune.

Crossposted on Rock Prosopography 101

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hart Music, 894 Laurel Avenue, San Carlos, CA

This is an ad for Hart Music, the drum store Mickey Hart managed along with his Father Lenny Hart, at 894 Laurel Avenue in San Carlos. I have speculated elsewhere about whether Mickey was playing with any bands while managing the store from 1965 to late 1967, when he joined the Dead after jamming with them at The Straight Theatre on September 29.

The source of the ad is a book called The SF Band ID Book, an effort to provide a sort of "phone book" for agents or others looking to hire bands. The book, about 40 pages long, features pictures, profiles and contact addresses for San Francisco and Bay Area bands circa Fall 1966. The most well-known bands, such as The Dead, Big Brother or Quicksilver have been profiled many times, but the Band ID book is one of the few sources for photos of groups like The Canadian Fuzz or The Generation.

There are also a few ads from various purveyors of goods and services. Its a nice irony that Hart Music is advertising in the book, but its also good business, since many of their clients would have been in the book also. I do note from the ad that Hart Music seems to have a San Francisco address also, at 317 Columbus, as I have never heard anything about a San Francisco branch of the store. It is interesting to note the display in the ad, as well, as it does remind me of the Grateful Dead drum-percussion set up of the late 1970s--all that's missing is a kit for Billy.

Friday, August 14, 2009

December 18, 1965: The Big Beat, Palo Alto--Lost and Found

One of the principal events in the founding of the Grateful Dead was Ken Kesey's Acid Test at the Big Beat Club in Palo Alto on December 18, 1965. Tom Wolfe wrote about it in Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and among many other remarkable events it was where Owsley Stanley introduced manager Rock Scully to the Grateful Dead, and where Hugh Romney--known today as Wavy Gravy--first got on the bus, too. However, the location or even the nature of The Big Beat club remained shrouded in mystery. As a Palo Alto native, I found it odd that such a seminal location had gotten lost in the mists of time. A search of the regular sources (Dennis McNally, Rock Scully, etc) did not reveal the location, and indeed there were many contradictions. I have been in email contact with people who attended the event, and they themselves could not recall the exact location of The Big Beat.

Determined newspaper research finally revealed the location of The Big Beat (the article and ad above are from the June 24, 1966 edition of the San Mateo Times). I was even more startled to go to the actual site and discover that the building at 998 San Antonio Road, Palo Alto, pictured above in my photo (from August 7, 2009), apparently remains intact. While the well-kept building is now vacant, it still looks very much like the 1960s pizza parlor and dance club where the Dead played an acid test. As a result of my research, the history of The Big Beat and its peculiar relation to the Grateful Dead can now be clarified.

The Big Beat was the San Francisco Peninsula's first "rock" club, modeled somewhat on the style of venues like the Peppermint Twist in New York City. Owner Yvonne Modica, quite an interesting figure in her own right, had been a succesful restaurant and night club entrepreneur in the Bay Area since the 1950s. California liquor laws allowed restaurants to serve beer and wine, so by serving pizza the club could offer beer, without having to have a full liqour license. Another California anomaly allowed 18 year old adults in such establishments, although the drinking age was 21 (essentially to allow College Juniors to bring Freshman dates), and in any case the 25-and-under audience for The Big Beat was mostly a beer-drinking crowd anyway.

San Antonio Road was in the far Southeast corner of Palo Alto, quite far from Stanford University and the bohemian downtown scene that had spawned Jerry Garcia, Joan Baez and others. In fact the location of the club, in a then deserted industrial district near Highway 101, insured that most of the customers probably came from Mountain View, Los Altos and Sunnyvale as much as Palo Alto. The groups featured were local combos who played dance music, probably with a mixture of British Invasion, Surf and R&B (i.e. Motown) covers. The focus would have been on dancing and meeting members of the opposite sex, with beer and music for lubrication.

According to Yvonne Modica's obituary, one of the innovations of The Big Beat was a "breakfast show" from 2 to 6 am on Saturday and Sunday mornings, where no liquor was served. Apparently musicians would finish their other gigs, and come to jam and hang out until the early hours. Breakfast shows were a regular feature of Jazz clubs in San Francisco and later there were a number of rock or soul breakfast shows around the Bay Area, including at Winchester Cathedral in Redwood City, Frenchy's in Hayward or Modica's other club, The Trip in San Mateo, which opened later in 1966.

Ironically enough, The Big Beat's lasting fame came the weekend before it opened, when Ken Kesey's crew rented the place for a party, and The Grateful Dead played at The Acid Test. Hard as it may seem to grasp today, LSD was perfectly legal, and people drank electrified kool-aid and raved the night away. The cops did not like Kesey's Pranksters, and when they found out about an event they hovered around, hoping to bust people for pot (then a serious felony), but LSD use was legal and open.

Interestingly, someone who attended recalls two stages on opposite sides of the building (a common arrangement, making it easy to switch over to a new band) and an all-girl band who alternated with the Dead. The identity of this girl group remains a mystery, and my eyewitness readily concedes that his memory may be faulty and he simply could have imagined the other group. Anyone with foggy memories or insights about the identities of this all-woman should contact me or post in the comments (and to answer the first question, the Ace Of Cups, the legendary all-female psychedelic band, had not formed yet).

Since December 18 was a Saturday, presumably The Big Beat opened on Monday (Dec 20) or Tuesday (Dec 21). I know the club was open at least until Spring 1968, as I have seen a poster (advertising Charlie Musselwhite on March 24, 1968). Until Tom Wolfe published Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, the Big Beat Acid Test was known only to those who were there and a few other friends. However, although The Big Beat continued to exist, it dropped completely off the psychedelic radar.

According to one of the members of the downtown proto-hippie crowd, a club like The Big Beat was not only far from downtown--meaning you had to have a car to get there--but the beer drinking, go-go dancing scene was for twenty-somethings who worked at Lockheed, not budding artists who wanted to drop out of society. As a result, while The Big Beat seems to have been a popular enough establishment in 1966-67, people who went to The Big Beat didn't go to the Fillmore, and people who went to The Fillmore didn' t want to see anyone who played at The Big Beat.

The Big Beat seems to have closed around mid-1968, and its sister club, The Trip, in San Mateo (at 4301 El Camino) was open for about a year from mid-1966 to mid-1967. As Fillmore groups became more popular in the suburbs, going to a faux psychedelic nightclub to buy drinks became less appealing. The Big Beat receded into history, but the building remarkably remains intact.

Googling "Palo Alto" "The Big Beat" and other relevant terms will turn up a variety of incorrect locations for the club. The building that used to house the Keystone Palo Alto (a former supermarket at 260 South California) has been identified as the Big Beat, and a now demolished building on Homer Lane has been identified as the Big Beat also. I have gotten to the bottom of the story of the latter building, and there are reasons to confuse the Homer Lane building with The Big Beat, but that is the subject of another project. The actual Big Beat club remains intact in Southeast Palo Alto, a peculiar beacon to a distant past.

Palo Alto geographical note: San Antonio Road is actually the frontage road off the larger San Antonio Avenue, and you have to access San Antonio Road off East Charleston.

Crossposted at RockProsopography101.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

May 1964, Noncommissioned Officers Club, Tyndall Air Force Base, Panama City, Florida: Jerry Garcia, Sandy Rothman, Scott Hambly

Dennis McNally describes Jerry Garcia’s cross-country bluegrass odyssey with Sandy Rothman in great detail (pp.70-73). In the early Summer of 1964, Jerry and Sandy drive in Jerry’s Corvair, traveling with the White Brothers to St. Louis, and then onwards to visit Neal Rosenberg in Indiana. For a break, they drive to Florida to visit Berkeley friend Scott Hambly, a former member of Berkeley’s first bluegrass band, The Redwood Canyon Ramblers. Hambly was in the Air Force, but Rothman and the short-haired Garcia spends a few days in Florida picking with their old friend.

While the trip to the Air Force base is just one stop on a lengthy trip—Garcia goes on to Bean Blossom, and then Pennsylvania, where he meets David Grisman—it is generally unremarked that McNally identifies Jerry Garcia’s first out-of-California gig. McNally writes “The three of them [Garcia, Rothman and Hambly] even played a show at the Noncommissioned Officers Club at Tyndall, but a few days of the vicious insect life of Florida drove Jerry and Sandy to Dothan, Alabama to hear the well-known players Jim and Jesse McReynolds.”

There were many Southerners in the Armed Services, and Bill Monroe and Flatt and Scruggs had been Grand Ole Opry stars in the 1950s, so plenty of Airmen would have been at least generally familiar with bluegrass music. The trio of young Californians would probably have been fairly well received by whatever modest crowd was there. Given the lengthy history of Jerry Garcia’s performances throughout America, however, its interesting to contemplate that his first out-of-state performance was at an Air Force base in Florida.